Venice woodworker embraces the contemporary style in his artistic work

By Bridgette M. Redman

Tom Adams is a master woodworker who creates intricate pieces of custom contemporary furniture in his Venice studio. PHOTO BY LUIS CHAVEZ

From shadowing a friend in the garage to the siren call of the ocean, Tom Adams found himself inexorably led to the art form that now dominates his days.
A master woodworker, Adams owns a studio in Venice where he creates intricate pieces of contemporary furniture custom made for his clients. And while many artists had their work decrease during the pandemic, Adams says he is busy. He creates a lot of custom work for STAHL + BAND, a Venice-based furniture showroom that features the work of fine artists. Adams said the owner, creative director and designer Jeffery Molter tripled his business in one year and Adams has been working six days a week to try to keep up with demand.

“I think since people are in and not out and about, they are redecorating, remodeling and just spending money on the house,” Adams said. “There seems to be a lot of interest in furniture and I know that there is construction going on everywhere. I feel so sorry for the restaurants, they’ve gotten hammered, but all the people I know who do construction or my friend who delivers boats, he’s made more money in the past year than ever.”

The beginning

From an early age, Adams was interested in art. He took whatever art and photography classes he could while he was in school and developed an artistic eye that continues to serve him well with the work he creates.

When he was living in San Diego, Adams stayed with a family whose father was retired from the Navy. He was building cabinets out of his garage and taught Adams how to use the tools. From there, Adams taught himself woodworking and discovered how much he enjoyed it.

When Adams first moved to Del Rey and Venice, he was heavily involved in the marina. He was sailing and racing in California and Mexico, and sailed almost all the way around the world. It was during his time at sea that Adam’s love for woodworking began to blossom into something he did for others.

“A natural progression was to do woodworking on boats, which led to doing work on the boats,” Adams said.

He continued to do woodworking for boats until 27 years ago when he set up his current woodshop, a 2,500-square-foot work area where he can do a variety of work. The boat work began to melt away.

“I do occasional boat work, but only anything someone could bring in,” Adams said,

“I don’t like going down there anymore — dragging the tools to work on the dock. I have this huge shop and I like it here.”

People still bring him boat work and one friend used his shop to work on his rowing dinghy, but Adams said he can’t fit an entire boat in his small driveway.

Creating in Venice

After living and working so long in Venice, Adams said that all his work is via word-of-mouth; he doesn’t actively sell, advertise or seek out orders.
“I’m well-known in the marina and Venice area,” Adams said. “A lot of people know me and they always come back. I have a lot of returning customers.”

Adams’ favorite work is anything custom. He shuns work that is repetitive or that requires making the same thing with little creative input.

“People bring in interesting projects and that’s a challenge I like to tackle,” Adams said.

Carving the contemporary

A lot of thought goes into all Adams’ work. He sometimes creates from the drawings that designers give him and he goes with their blueprint. However, he points out that anyone can make a drawing, but it doesn’t always match up with how things work in the real world.

Adams marries his solid understanding of physics with his artistic eye so that he can now easily look at something and figure out what is achievable and what will look good. Other times, he will come up with his own ideas, visualizing them and trying to figure out how to solve the challenges of making them.

“I love the process of trying to figure out how I am going to build something,” Adams said. “I can see things three-dimensionally in my mind. It evolves — a lot of the work is done when I’m sleeping. I come up with solutions to problems. So, if I’m designing a chair and I’m stuck on a spot, that night I’m thinking about it while half asleep. The more time you have to think about it, you can come up with a good solution. A lot of times, I’ve dreamt about solutions to problems.”
Adams will work with any wood, but his favorite is teak.

“It’s the most beautiful, forgiving wood there is,” Adams said. “It’s just fantastic to work with — not just the look, but the machining it, routing it — it’s a pleasure to work with.”

However, he also points out that it’s one of the most expensive woods and his customers often ask him to work with walnut, ash, white oak or other types of wood.

Some of Adams’ recent projects have been tables. He’s been making spool tables that have tapered cylinders of various lengths. He turns them on a lathe so that segments are cut at 15-degree angles, tapered and glued together.

Another is a five-legged table with legs that are 30 inches long and 5 1/2 inches round. It’s a commission from STAHL + BAND. He turns the five legs so that they go into the bottom of a marble top.

Adams cites the fact that Molter gives him a variety of jobs as one of the reasons he likes working for him so often — that and they have similar artistic styles.

“He does change it up,” Adams said. “I’ll make a prototype and that kind of stuff — something that challenges me. That’s what I enjoy the most. I have my own style. It’s more contemporary. I don’t care for older, traditional European with a lot of gloopy lines. I’m just more contemporary. It’s a good fit with Jeffery and myself.”

Prototyping is high on Adams’ list of favorite things because of the creative and artistic demands they entail.

“Sometimes, I get really creative and things just start flying through my head — this design and then constantly tweaking it and changing the design, looking at it from a different point of view,” Adams said. “How will I make the legs? It’s enjoyable. It’s the creative process.”
Adams loves it all — unless it’s repetitive. Don’t ask him to make cabinets. He doesn’t like cabinets.